How many of you have ever upgraded your washing machine, or dryer, or dishwasher to a new, high efficiency model? Or maybe you remember your parents doing so when you were younger? And now how many of you remember that you started using it more than you used the old one?
Of course it doesn’t have to be you use it more because you have a better unit. Maybe you had kids and needed to get a more efficient unit to deal with the sudden mountain of things that needed to be cleaned and wanted to save some money on the water bill? The important point is that this isn’t a unique happening. It’s actually been something that has been noticed since the Industrial freaking Revolution.
It’s called Jevons Paradox. And it came from one guy, whom I bet you can guess his name, noticing that when better, more fuel efficient steam engines were invented, rather than the expected drop in demand for coal, coal usage actually rose noticeably. The reason for this is simply because now that operating a steam engine was cheaper, more people found uses for it.
In fact there is a bunch of interesting corollaries from this observation but I hate repeating Wikipedia articles, so how does this affect us directly? Well, honestly I have no answer to that question. That’s the whole point of the Jevons Paradox, that more and new uses are Found for processes that experience efficiency gains. It’s like getting a raise at work that allows you to afford all your bills and still have money left over for the first time. That money Gets Spent. Sure not right away and not constantly, but maybe you put some away for that vacation to Italy you always wanted, or a down payment on a new house so you can move in with your longtime boyfriend, or a dog that you couldn’t afford before, or Any number of possibilities.
So what about when that raise isn’t a small one, but instead is a BIG one? A windfall of lottery proportions every year for the rest of your life? How would your life change if you suddenly had access to a Million times more money? How would you change your life and the lives of those around you? Spend tens of millions of dollars a year and still have money leftover. That’s the scale of the energy gain we have with nuclear energy. Can you imagine what the possibilities actually are? I try to but my inner child keeps getting excited and running all over the place shouting about spaceships and flying cars and dome cities and no more dentist appointments.
So I’m going to do something new here. I want to hear from you, my readers and all the people you know. Think about how much energy you use in your average life. Now imagine you had easy access to exactly 1 Million times more than that, Guilt free. If you want to keep it simple then just take your monthly energy bills and total them up for the year and then imagine what you would do with 1 Million times that amount of money (ex. If you spend $300 a month on electricity and heat combined then you would have $3.6 Billion dollars to play with). No holds barred anything you would want to do with that amount of money. Send your ideas to us here at ANN either via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@AlbertaNuclear) or post on our facebook group. I want to see what you think would be possible with that amount of energy/money and hopefully I’ll get enough to start posting some of them on the website if you give your permission.
I think that for too long we’ve been trying to motivate people by telling them all the bad things that will happen if we don’t tackle climate change, but too much of the negatives only saps us of our energy. So lets spin the narrative around and start imagining the benefits that await us in the future that we have the ability to make. No Guilt and No Holds Barred. Let’s paint a picture of the future that people will pick themselves up out of the dirt to fight for.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work quite that way. In spite of nuclear fuel being a million times more dense than chemical fuels, it doesn’t translate into a million times more efficiency. The problem is that in order to make use of Th or U fuel, we need to spend energy to build these huge plants requiring materials which embody energy from their production. Plus we need to mine the fuel, refine it and enrich it which all takes energy. And then we have to account for the plant end-of-life and waste products disposal which also takes energy. The result is that much less energy gets to be used than the potential energy in that Th and/or U fertile/fissile fuel.
The ERoEI of fossil fuels has been estimated to be around 30 i.e. energy return (ER) being 30 x the energy invested (EI) while existing nuclear is around 75 (according to Weißbach) Still pretty damn good in comparison to say Solar PV’s estimated ERoEI of 3.9 with dispatchability buffering (also according to Weißbach) though. In any case an economic threshold of around ER being 7 X greater than EI is needed to justify our society’s efforts to build and maintain a power generation facility.
I’m not sure how much that multiplies the yearly $3600 annual electricity and heat bill (is it 75 X or 75 / 7 = 5 X … or something else?) but it sure isn’t 1E6 X … damn! 😦
shhh with your math 😛 although I think I saw that with full reprocessing or inline fuel purification for liquid fuel reactors the ERoEI for nuclear might go as high as 2000. But for now, we will assume that the million is relative to the amount of energy extracted for the same amount of mining. just a different kind of efficiency 🙂